'Lack of urgency' led to failed response to Uvalde shooting

January 19, 2024 2:00 pm

[Source: BBC]

Chaos and a “lack of urgency” plagued the police response to the deadly 2022 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the US Justice Department has found.

Teachers and students “were trapped in a room with an active shooter for over an hour”, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said.

“That should not have happened.”

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His comments followed Thursday’s release of a long-awaited report into one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.

The sharply critical report, spanning more than 600 pages, described how police officers remained in a hallway or outside the school as the gunman shot dozens of people in two classrooms, killing 19 children and two teachers.

Nearly 400 officers responded to Robb Elementary School but it took 77 minutes after the first officers arrived for police to confront and kill the 18-year-old shooter, according to the report.

That slow response was the major focus of the report, which found police had failed to understand there was an active shooter and said there were “cascading failures of leadership, decision-making, tactics, policy and training”.

It described “a great deal of confusion, miscommunication, a lack of urgency and a lack of incident command,” as the shooting at Robb Elementary unfolded.

Speaking sombrely and often having to pause often during the press conference, Mr Garland repeatedly said the rampage, “was a failure that should not have happened”.

“[The victims’] loved ones deserved better,” he said.

When there is an active shooter, law enforcement is supposed “to immediately neutralize the subject; everything else, including officer safety, is subordinate to that objective”, the report said.

But the Uvalde police waited, treating the shooting as a barricade situation, according to the report.

“The most significant failure was that responding officers should have immediately recognized the incident as an active shooter situation,” the report said.

They also were delayed by miscommunications and issues as simple as locked doors.

Within three minutes of the gunman opening fire, the first officers arrived and headed to a classroom but retreated after being hit by shrapnel from the gunfire.

The report said 48 minutes after the gunman entered the school, and four additional shots were fired, officers moved toward sounds of gunfire “outside the classroom doors but did not make entry”.

After the shooting ended, the chaos continued, said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta at the press conference.

Some students with gunshot wounds were put on buses to be reunited with their families instead of taken to the hospital. A family learned of a death by being asked about an autopsy.

“One adult victim was placed on a walkway on the ground outside to be attended to – she died,” Ms Gupta said.

It became the third-deadliest US school shooting ever, just behind 2007’s Virginia Tech and 2012’s Sandy Hook mass killings.

Much of the blame for the confused and slow response was put on Pete Arredondo, Uvalde’s former school police chief.

“He did not provide appropriate leadership, command, and control,” the report said, adding his “failures may have been influenced by policy and training deficiencies”.

Mr Arredondo left his radio behind, and had to communicate with his team either verbally or over a cell phone, the report said.

The Justice Department will not be bringing any charges, as it does not have jurisdiction, Mr Garland said,

It conducted its investigation to provide clarity around the circumstances that led to the large loss of life and to guide responding to future shootings.

Former Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin had requested the federal probe after state officials provided conflicting accounts about what happened. Residents in the small Texas town of roughly 15,000 waited 20 months for the final report.

The justice department relied on more than 14,000 pieces of data and 260 interviews, Ms Gupta said.

Mr Garland visited families in Uvalde on Wednesday and stopped by the town’s murals of victims. Officials also briefed victims’ families ahead of the report’s release.

The families spoke to reporters after Thursday’s press conference and many called for stronger restrictions on guns, as well as criminally prosecuting some of those involved in the police response.

“I hope that the failures end today and the local officials do what wasn’t done that day, do right by the victims and survivors of Robb Elementary – terminations, criminal prosecutions – and our state and federal government enacts sensible gun laws,” said Kimberly Mata-Rubio, who lost her 10-year-old daughter Lexi Rubio in the shooting.

A stinging report from Texas lawmakers in 2022 reached many of the same conclusions and also placed much of the blame on Mr Arredondo, who was fired shortly after the report was released. At least four other officers have also lost their jobs,

The gunman had fired roughly 142 rounds inside the building before he was stopped, according to the Texas report.

Multiple community members have filed lawsuits against the city’s police and local officials, which are pending.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell said in December that a criminal investigation into the police response will continue into 2024 before she anticipates presenting her findings to a grand jury, according to CBS News, the BBC’s media partner.

“My office will continue our independent review for any potential criminal charges,” Ms Mitchell said in a press release on Thursday.